This is Agatha Christie, so it goes without saying that nothing and no-one (with the exception, of course, of Miss Marple) is quite what they seem, and the plot is liberally littered with red herrings.
It’s a plot that starts in the drawing room at Little Paddocks in Chipping Cleghorn, where we are introduced to the residents – Letitia Blacklock and her niece and nephew Julia and Patrick Simmons, and Letitia’s old friend Dora Bunner. The peace is abruptly shattered when Bunny discovers an announcement in the local paper, stating that a murder will take place at 6.30pm the following day at Little Paddocks, though everyone but Bunny is quick to dismiss it as a joke … which, no spoiler here, it most certainly isn’t.
And so the plot begins to thicken, as the audience is given odd clues, subtle enough for some to miss, and a fair amount of misdirection. Cue the arrival of Inspector Craddock, with his sidekick Sergeant Mellors (Jog Maher), and the inevitable observations offered by Miss Marple.
The cast of A Murder is Announced are clearly relishing the unravelling of the mystery, often playing it for laughs, with Tom Butcher as Inspector Craddock, in particular, demonstrating some adept comic touches and proving a perfect foil to the dogged Miss Marple. In a drama where the ensemble is all, it’s perhaps unfair to single out any one performance, but Karen Drury is especially compelling as the confused, slightly dotty, Bunny – presenting us with an entirely credible picture of a woman on the edge of dementia. But everyone plays their part – Barbara Wilshere has dignity and warmth as Lettie Blacklock and all the supporting characters are crisply brought to life – from the brittle Julia (Lucy Evans) to the laconic and perpetually amused Patrick (Will Huntington), the volatile Mitzi (Lydia Piechowik obviously having a lot of fun!) and mother-and-son Swettenhams (Dot Smith and Tom Gibbons) who convincingly add to the confusion.
Directed by Michael Lunney for Middle Ground Theatre Company, A Murder is Announced fairly zips along and keeps you guessing (unless you’ve read it of course) right to the end. Praise indeed that my companion, who knew whodunnit, was still thoroughly engaged by the production.
A Murder is Announced runs until Saturday at The Courtyard. To book, call the box office on 01432 340555 or visit courtyard.org.uk